Michelle Toh et al., CNN, June 6, 2023
“The Little Mermaid” has bombed with moviegoers in China and South Korea amid racist critiques in some quarters over the casting of Black actress Halle Bailey as main character Ariel.
Disney’s live-action remake has made only $3.6 million in mainland China since opening there on May 26, according to Box Office Mojo.
It brought in just 19.5 million yuan ($2.7 million) in its first five days, compared with 142 million yuan (nearly $20 million) for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in the first five days of that film’s opening, according to Chinese box office tracker Endata.
In South Korea, “The Little Mermaid” has grossed $4.4 million since May 24.
The movie attracted some 472,000 viewers in its first week in theaters there, less than the 643,000 fans who showed up for new “Fast and Furious” film “Fast X,” over the same duration, according to the Korean Film Council. “Fast X” opened a week before “The Little Mermaid.”
The chilly reception came as viewers in both countries questioned the choice of Bailey as the star of the movie, a decision that has been celebrated elsewhere.
In the United States, young Black girls have hailed Disney’s decision, saying they feel represented on the big screen because of her titular role.
Fans in mainland China have shared their objections to the movie online, mainly expressing disappointment with Bailey’s casting.
On Douban, a popular Chinese movie review website, users scored the film just 5.1 out of 10.
On Maoyan, a Chinese movie review and box office tracking platform, one user said they were “puzzled” as “the ‘Little Mermaid’ in my mind is White.” Several others made discriminatory comments about Bailey’s skin color.
“The fairy tale that I grew up with has changed beyond recognition!” wrote another Maoyan user.
Similar sentiment was found on social media in South Korea. On Instagram, one user wrote that the movie had been “ruined” for them, adding “#NotMyAriel.”
In Japan, where the film has yet to open, it has also faced criticism from those who say the portrayal of Ariel appears to differ from the one they remember. “Don’t trample on my cherished childhood memories and the image of Ariel,” one online forum user wrote.
Chinese state media has also egged on such reactions.